Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Iraq War Postmortem

I was reading "That Piece Killed by the 'Post'" just now and was struck by an anonymous comment listing three reasons that the invasion of Iraq happened:
  1. the uber-patriotic/paranoid American reaction to 9/11 - which included almost all the media.

  2. the utterly cynical exploitation of that national mood by the Iraq warmongers and Bush Administration, which effectively intimidated most of the media from challenging their bogus WMD etc. narrative.

  3. the outright complicity in hyping the war by some members of the media seeking insider status and furthering their personal ambitions.
Much as I dislike points #2 and #3, I at least feel able to understand them - that is, I recognize the motivations involved, although I condemn those motivations. But even now, ten years later, I still don't feel like I even understand point #1. And if we - the people who are not inclined to support mass murder - are to have any hope at all of preventing the same sort of thing from happening again in the future, surely it behooves us to try to understand the motivations of the ordinary Americans' "national mood" of being "uber-patriotic/paranoid" in response to the events of September 11, 2001.

I remember my own reaction when I turned on my television - the first time in months that I'd turned it on at all - on September 11, 2001, and watched the news. First I watched the reports about planes crashing into buildings, and of course that was very scary. It was obviously unprecedented in my lifetime, and there was so little information yet, on the actual day that it happened, that it was impossible not to wonder what might be attacked next, and when, and just how much worse this might all continue to become. And then I remember the news suddenly switching to live video of a large fire in Kabul, Afghanistan, as seen from the air. The TV reporters speculated - incorrectly, as it turned out later - that the U.S. government might already have launched a counterstrike against Afghanistan, and that the fire we were watching live video of might be the result of a bomb that the U.S. government had already dropped on Kabul in retribution for the attacks on the United States.

And I remember being horrified by this. Both by the possibility that the reporters' speculation was accurate, and by the approving tones in which the reporters voiced this speculation. It was already clear, on the day of September 11 itself, that the TV reporters were eager to believe that this fire burning in Kabul was in fact caused by a bomb that had already been dropped by the U.S. government. But if that had actually been a bomb dropped, it was clear that civilians would be suffering for something they took no part in doing. And when actual bombs really were dropped a few weeks later, civilians did indeed suffer and did indeed die in retribution for something they took no part in doing.

What I don't understand is how anyone in the world could possibly fail to be horrified by that. As it turned out, a majority of United States citizens failed to be horrified by that. But why? How was that possible? What on earth were they all thinking?

Most of you reading this did not fail to be horrified by that. I know this because a large portion of you reading this are the same people I was reading on LiveJournal back then, on the day of September 11, 2001. Only a tiny fraction of a percentage of the people I knew online supported invading Afghanistan, let alone Iraq. Those few who did support it were people I didn't know very well. As a result, seeing them support war did not give me any insights into how anyone could support war. I was baffled by their reactions, and I've remained baffled by their reactions ever since. The most I've been able to gather is that for some people, having their government slaughter innocent people in other countries makes them feel safer. But why? For me and for everyone I knew well - for almost everyone I knew at all - having our government slaughter innocent people in other countries made us feel less safe. So how could it make so many other people feel more safe? What caused the difference?

I really don't understand. I have to suppose, since virtually everyone on both sides of this issue seemed to have such an immediate, almost instinctual, gut reaction - that we all instantly felt that having our government bomb other countries would make us feel either less safe or more safe - that the courses of our lives had already sorted us, long before September 11, into one category or the other, setting us up as people who would react in one way or the other way to an event that we never anticipated would actually happen at all.

I'm oversimplifying the duality of the two positions. I think that for those who felt that war would make them safer, their primary motivation in wanting war was exactly that, to feel safer. But I think that for those of us who opposed war, our primary motivation in opposing it was not that it made us feel less safe - although I do think it made us feel less safe. I just don't think the war, or the prospect of war, had as big an impact on how safe we felt as it had on how safe the pro-war people felt. I think we felt that war would make us somewhat less safe, but I think we also felt that war's impact on our own safety was of extremely minimal importance compared to war's impact on the safety of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And I think, too, that there seemed to be a correlation between being queer and being antiwar. It definitely wasn't a 100% correlation, but it was a general trend, I think.

But let's get back to the major question: What caused some people to feel that war would make them safer?

Did it have to do with how much we trusted our government? Or with how much we empathized with people who live in other countries? Or with how much experience we had being frightened of things other than terrorist attacks? Did it have to do with how much we were in the habit of letting our televisions tell us what opinions to hold? Or with how much experience we had being on the losing sides in interpersonal battles? Or with how much experience we had being "collateral damage" in interpersonal battles that we never wanted to be party to at all?

Don't tell me "all of the above." I want to sort out which factors matter most.

What can we do, here and now, to coax people toward a mindset that will make them less likely, the next time some unexpected international event frightens them terribly, to feel that bombing innocent people in other countries will somehow make them safer?
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